Jan Saudek (born 13 May 1935 in Prague, Czechoslovakia) is a Czech art photographer and painter.
Saudek's father was a Jew and this, coupled with his Slavic (Czech) heritage, caused his family to become a target of the Nazis. Many of his family died in Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. Jan and his brother Karel, or Kája, were held in a children's concentration camp for Mischlinge, located near the present Polish-Czech border. His father, Gustav, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in February 1945. Both sons and father survived the war.
According to Saudeks's biography, he got his first camera, a Kodak Baby Brownie, in 1950. He apprenticed to a photographer and in 1952 started working as a print shop worker, where he worked until 1983. In 1959, he started using the more advanced Flexaret 6x6 camera, and engaged in painting and drawing. After completing his military service, he was inspired in 1963 by the catalogue for Edward Steichen's The Family of Man exhibition, to try to become a serious art photographer. In 1969, he traveled to the United States and was encouraged in his work by curator Hugh Edwards.
Returning to Prague, he was forced to work in a clandestine manner in a cellar, to avoid the attentions of the secret police, as his work turned to themes of personal erotic freedom, and used implicitly political symbols of corruption and innocence. From the late 1970s, he became recognized in the West as the leading Czech photographer, and also developed a following among photographers in his own country. In 1983, the first book of his work was published in the English-speaking world. The same year, he became a freelance photographer as the Czech Communist authorities allowed him to cease working in the print shop, and gave him permission to apply for a permit to work as an artist. In 1987, the archives of his negatives were seized by the police, but later returned.
Saudek lives and works in Prague. His brother Kája Saudek was also an artist, the best-known Czech graphic novelist.
His best-known work is noted[by whom?] for its hand-tinted portrayal of painterly dream worlds, often inhabited by nude or semi-nude figures surrounded by bare plaster walls or painted backdrops, frequently re-using identical elements (for instance, a clouded sky or a view of Prague's Charles Bridge). In this they echo the studio and tableaux works of mid nineteenth century erotic photographers, as well as the works of the painter Balthus, and of Bernard Faucon. His early art photography is noted[by whom?] for its evocation of childhood. His later works often portrayed the evolution from child to adult (re-photographing the same composition/pose, and with the same subjects, over many years). Religious motifs or the ambiguity between man and woman have also been some of Jan Saudek's recurring themes. His work was the subject of attempts at censorship in the West during the 1990s.
Some of Saudek's work has been used as covers for the albums of Anorexia Nervosa (New Obscurantis Order), Soul Asylum (Grave Dancers Union), Daniel Lanois (For the Beauty of Wynona), and Beautiful South (Welcome to the Beautiful South).
Saudek's imagery has had a mixed international reception. Quite early, he had shows in the United States and in Australia, where in 1970 his work was shown at the Australian Centre for Photography and was welcomed by curator Jennie Boddington at the National Gallery of Victoria. In the same country, by contrast, Black Sheep & White Crow, which features a semi-naked prepubescent girl, was removed from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the eve of its opening on 21 August 2011 following child prostitution claims.
2015 Valeria Rabbit Hole Art Room, Warsaw, Poland
1981 Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH Jacques Baruch Gallery, Chicago, IL Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery, New York
1980 FNAC - Montparnasse, Paris photokina, Cologne, Germany
1979 G.Ray Hawkins Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Saudek's work is held in the following permanent collections:
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